The Colares DO of Portugal. The world most endangered wine region

COLARES DO of PORTUGAL

I’m often asked by friends, family, and colleagues what some my favorite wines are from wineries we represent.  This always such a tough question because I have such strong connections with our suppliers and their wines. Besides, we all have wines we prefer on certain days, and/or moods.  But, if I had to narrow one wine down that’s close to my heart for being delicious and having an incredible story, I’d have to say our Adega Regional de Colares Ramsico is in the top 5 of my all time favorites.

This incredible and tiny DO in Portugal’s Lisboa region is a remarkable tale.  Colares wines went from being served and sought after by many of Europe’s royal families to one of the worlds most endangered and almost forgotten wine regions. A century ago the vineyards exceeded 1000 hectares (2500 acres), but today only 19 hectares (50 acres) exist, and thanks to the vines growing out of the ocean sands,  the Colares vineyards have never been effected by the phylloxera disease that ravaged most of Europe’s vineyards in the 1800’s.

The Colares DO is located about 30 miles northwest of Lisbon in one of Portugals’ swankiest of beach resort areas.  Coastal towns such as Azenhas do Mar are havens for some of Lisbon’s elites and surfers, and over the past several decades real estate developers have been purchasing the old Colares vineyards only to replace them with Condominiums and Mc-Mansions.  Today there are only two wineries carrying the torch for the DO; sole remaining private bottler, Antonio Bernardino Paulo da Silva, and the Adega Regional de Colares- both sourcing fruit from Colares’ mere 55 growers.  Between the two of them only 50,000 bottles of Colares wines are produced from the region’s only allowed grapes; the white grape Malvasia, and the noble red grape Ramisco (pronounced Ra Mish Co).

Malvasia is a grape grown in many countries in Europe, and can be good, but Malvasia from Colares offers a beautiful example of how great this grape can be. They display stunning minerality and a distinct salty quality that are paired beautifully with the local seafood. Ramisco on the other hand is unique to only Colares.   It’s a thick-skinned red grape that grows within yards of the Atlantic ocean where it finds clay deep beneath the sand, and grows in a spiral snakelike manner in between dwarf apple trees and herbs.  Ramisco is often compared to Burgundies from Cotes de Nuits as well as Nebbiolo from Barbaresco, and although Ramisco has simliar elegance and grace, and is remarkably age worthy, it really has a style all its own.

Colares wines are well-structured, balanced, have great finesse, and show ample berry fruit and black berry jam. The 2005 Adega Regional de Colares Ramisco reminds me of a cross between old traditional Rioja, and really good traditional aged Barbaresco. Perhaps the Burgundy reference comes into play because Ramisco seldom goes over 12.5% in ALC, and has all the complexity and grace of exceptional Côtes de Nuits. So there you have it.  Colares; once a very important wine region that should once again rise to the fame it truly deserves!

 

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This is a typical vineyard plot owned by one of the 55 growers.  The sugar cane wind barriers are necessary to protect the grapes from being blown off the vines from the ocean’s strong gale force winds.

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Francisco Figueiredo winemaker at Adega Regional de Colares shows me a 60-year-old Ramisco vine.  These vines find the clay anywhere between 1-3 meters below the sand to form it’s strong root system.

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